Saturday, August 26, 2006

Mother, Jugs and Spuds


Jon's mother, while oblivious or obstinate on most topics, responds with such exaggeration to news of Jon's steady dating that the reader is nudged to remember exactly how monumental a development it is. By keeping Mom off-stage, we're allowed to read the entire spectrum of possible responses, from "I am happy; finally my son will begin a family" to "the bottom has dropped out of my reality". Because all that we know of Mrs. Arbuckle's reaction is that her circuit breakers have been tripped - she could be shocked, delighted, etc. - perhaps the reactions we personally migrate towards can tell us something about our own responses to Jon, or even about our relationships with our own parents and how we feel they view us.

Another dimension to Jon's mother's surprise is underlined by the secondary joke that the Arbuckle family is so cornpone that there is always a big helping of mashed potatoes in the immediate vicinity. The generational and cultural gap between Jon and his family likely means Jon's prolonged bachelorhood has seemed even more extreme to his rural parents.

Garfield of course has zero interest in either Jon's love life, or Arbuckle family business, and latches onto one tangential idea for his own personal punchline, "I've had dreams like that." It's a double-barrel joke, telling us A) that the Arbuckles are so boring/ Garfield so self-absorbed that he's not even paying attention, B) Garfield's gluttony extends into a deeply confused place in his subconscious. It's one thing to have a wish-fulfillment dream about diving into a swimming pool of mashed potatoes, or eating your way out of a cave made of mashed potatoes... but fainting unconscious into food means that in the dream you're not even eating, but being covered, smothered, consumed. This wiggles past defiant indulgence, or even food addiction and into fetishism that will take expert psychologists with more serious training than I to untangle.

Optional Reader Activity Worksheet: Call your mother and inform her that Jon Arbuckle has a girlfriend. What is her response? Into what food does she pass out? Will real cats even eat potatoes?

9 comments:

Will said...

Funny you should ask about whether or not cats eat potatoes.

I recently aquired a new kitten who got into the pantry one day, and proceeded to gnaw away on a potato she found in a bag. She managed to eat a great deal of the outer skin before I caught her and it made her throw up later on during the day.

So, perhaps Garfield purposely wishes to induce vomiting of some kind? Could it be our hero is bulemic, or suffers from some other kind of self-image crises?

Anonymous said...

My cat has eaten mashed potatoes, but they had cheese in them. I am not so sure about regular ones.

Elliot said...

Will, you know what your story proves? Any situation, no matter how disgusting, can be made cute with a kitten.

My cat begs for human food a lot, but when you try to give her a little piece of rice or something, she just paws at it, confused.

Allen said...

Maybe the mashed potatoes thing is apparent because Jon can hear the audible ~Splut!~ of a face colliding with them. This adds a whole new level of inquiry into the Arbuckle family life, though. How often has a member of the family fallen face-first into the mashed potatoes that Jon recognizes the sound of it?

B said...

I think you're missing an alternate explanation of Garfield's line, that he dreams of Mrs Arbuckle passed out and covered in mashed potatoes. This is possibly the most distrubing thing I've seen in a comic strip, and I need to go lie down now.

Robert said...

Elliot, my cat's the same. I don't know why it took me so long to realise she never eats what I gave her. Must be the cuteness thing.

Anonymous said...

i knew a cat who would eat popcorn. it makes me wonder if my parents would have the same reaction! How long has Jon not had a girlfriend? What will her reaction be to Liz?

Bryan said...

Similar to what B said...we're missing a serious point...falling unconscious into mashed potatoes is extremely dangerous. And while Jon's mother is in obvious life-threatening peril, Garfield reveals the depth of his evil soul by admitting that he has been dreaming of her demise in just this way. Garfield is sick and I am not laughing.

Nyperold said...

My assumption is that Jon's father and/or Doc Boy was present, witnessed her fainting spell, and apprised Jon of the situation.